Save Your Horse’s Mouth, Stop with Your Seat
You probably learned to “kick to go” and “pull to whoa” from the very start of your riding career. While this simplistic view of communicating with your horse may get you through the first few rides, you want to learn some finesse. While all the natural aids are important to master— seat, legs, hands and voice—your horse will feel your seat aids first. When you make sure that you’re using your seat correctly, you won’t have to pull so hard to make your horse whoa. Your refined and combined cues will save your horses mouth and ensure your horse gets your message as soon as possible.
No horse wants you to pull on the reins. Even with the lightest touch, your backwards rein cue means your horse feels metal in his mouth. What’s more, most horses want to stop; they’re fundamentally lazy and usually don’t need tons of rein pressure to stop. Your horse will be glad to stop when he feels your seat cue and before he feels pressure from the reins and bit. Sadly, most horses don’t know their riders want to stop until they feel a pull on their mouths. They haven’t been given the gift of a gentler aid given before a panicked pull on the reins. Learn to cue your horse in a sequence so he can learn to stop with subtle cues. Before you pull on the reins, make sure to say “whoa” and sit down on your pockets. This sequence—providing voice and seat aids before rein aids—will save your horse’s mouth and make him a happier, more willing partner.
When you are in a balanced position on your horse, you are positioned directly over his center of gravity. He can feel your two seat bones pressing into the very sensitive part of his back. He can also feel your center of gravity in synchronization with his. To ask your horse to stop using your seat aid, simply exhale, drop your shoulders down toward your hips and feel your two seat bones push down and forward into his back. Your center of gravity shifts toward your horse’s hind end. As you sit down, your legs will naturally relax and move off the horse’s sides. This seat/weight cue is very easy for your horse to feel. When he has the option to respond to your stopping cue before he feels you pull on his mouth, he’ll happily and promptly stop.
Don’t hesitate to use your reins as reinforcements to your seat aid if your horse doesn’t respond right away. Continue to cue your horse with your seat before the reins and he’ll eventually figure out your new sequence of cues. Keep repeating until you see a difference. In my five-DVD series on riding, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, there are comprehensive explanations and demonstrations of how to ride in balance and rhythm with the horse, how to use your natural aids for soft and subtle communication and advanced skills such as canter, lead changes, collection and lateral movements.